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BOOK 8U.54.H6 17C c 1 



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Digitized by the Internet Archive 

in 2011 with funding from 

LYRASIS members and Sloan Foundation 



http://www.archive.org/details/correspondenceofOOhirs 



A CORRESPONDENCE OF AMERICANS 



i in the house and out Samuel Yellen 

2. THE GYPSY BALLADS OF GARCIA LORCA 

translated by Rolfe Humphries 

3 dry sun, dry wind David Wagoner 

4 songs for a new America Charles G. Bell 

5 NEW ENGLAND HARVEST Donald C. Babcock 

6 THE VEGETABLE KINGDOM PadraiC Colum 

7 kingdom of diagonals Kenneth Slade Ailing 

8 the reckless spenders Walker Gibson 
g prefabrications Josephine Miles 

10 THE DEATHS AT PARAGON, INDIANA John Woods 

INDIANA UNIVERSITY POETRY SERIES 

n delta return Charles G. Bell 

12 CHANGES OF GARMENTS Neil Weiss 

13 new and selected poems Kenneth Fearing 

14 an apology both ways Richard Aldridge 

15 selected poems of gabrjela mistral 

translated by Langston Hughes 

16 a place to stand David Wagoner 

17 coming of age: new & selected poems Babette Deutsch 

18 poems: 1930-1960 Josephine Miles 

19 a correspondence of Americans Jack Hirschman 



\ 



Jack \r]lA4d(*rt+*4* 

vs 

^=s a 
correspondence 
of Americans 

/ 



'<;<* 



INDIANA UNIVERSITY PRESS 
i960 • BLOOMINGTON 



- — - 



Acknowledgment is made to the following periodicals for per- 
mission to reprint the poems indicated: 

To Coraddi for "David and Saul"; to Folio for "Calligraph"; to 
Prairie Schooner for "Hart Crane"; to Botteghe Oscure for "A 
Correspondence of Americans"; to Chelsea Review for "From the 
Ptolemaic Statues of the Serapeum of Memphis" and "Strophe" 
from The Bestiary; to Hip Pocket Poems for "Ikon." 



Copyright © i960 by Indiana University Press 

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced 

in any form without the permission of the Indiana University Press. 

Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 60-8915 

Manufactured in the United State of America 



for Ruth 



old men carrying their fathers and philosophers 
weeping in the dust, America perhaps, Don Quixote 
—malcolm lowry, Under the Volcano 



INTRODUCTION / \CmI $&*<fa{> 



I am proud to introduce A Correspondence of Americans, though 
I am reluctant to stand between the poems and the reader. The 
present-day custom of writing introductions and blurbs to books 
of poems is a bad one. It makes authorities of preface-writers and 
sets up a chain of literary command. It encourages critics to in- 
crease and multiply, and keeps the poet a hostage to criticism. My 
pleasure in writing a foreword for this richly talented poet is offset 
by the knowledge that he may be judged by my remarks and not by 
his poems. Let us hope not. Let my comments, whether good criti- 
cism or not, serve only to open the door for him. It is a solemn 
thing to publish a first volume of poems, and a serious matter to 
introduce them. 

Of the hundreds and hundreds of competently written books of 
poems published every year, there is rarely one that distinguishes 
itself from the common idiom. It is always an event of importance 
to find a poet whose speech is his own. The poet who has evolved 
his own particular version of the language is ultimately the only 
interesting poet, the one whose name we remember. I am not talk- 
ing about "style," which is usually no more than a polite variation 
of the norm, but of invention itself. For poetry is not simply a way 
of saying something: it is a way of seeing. The poet is the one who 
confers significance upon his language, by seeing through it and 
by using it new. The true poet is no respecter of language; quite 
the contrary. 

Jack Hirschman is such an inventor, not a stylist or an eccentric 
or a faddist. He takes the "forms" as they come, whether the meters 
or the meanings. He takes them or leaves them. He uses American 
as it strikes him— as it probably is— with a rich baroque gutteral, 
learned or New Yorkese, bombastic or tender, with the full gamut 
of the comedy of our unbelievable, impossible heritage. He has 



managed to avoid the three deepest pitfalls of modern poetry: the 
phony mythopoeia, the "wit" of the academy, and the self -pitying 
social protest. He is neither ashamed of what he knows nor carried 
away by it; he is natural. 

What a relief to find a poet who is not afraid of the "vulgar" or 
the "sentimental," who can burst out laughing or cry his head off 
in poetry, who can make love to language or kick it in the pants. 
Hirschman is a kind of Hart Crane, without Crane's fatal humor- 
lessness or his more fatal culture-mongering. His own poems for 
Hart Crane, for W. C. Fields, and for Allen Ginsberg are human 
documents of poetry, not exercises of disembodied sensibility. 

In the twentieth century poets have been theorized to death, 
don'ted to death by the archbishops and crackpots of the Word. 
A few poets have managed to write poetry in spite of the sickly 
, literary atmosphere. Some, like Dylan Thomas, have died in the 
attempt to charge through the intellectual cordon sanitaire to the 
poetry-starved audience. To Hirschman these battles are ancient 
history. The babel of tongues is one language to him; the cities of 
the plain are as home. To be at home in the world, however it 
happens to be— what more can we ask of the poet? 

This then is goodbye to the nonsense of exile and all the pseudo- 
epigraphy of modernism. This is poetry under the natural condi- 
tions of its time. It is only a beginning perhaps but it is a way back 
to the center of the only known world. It is a world that corre- 
sponds, and the correspondences are all in American. 



CONTENTS 

Introduction 11 

Calligraph 15 

Hart Crane: April 27, 1932 16 

W. C. Fields 18 

Ikon 19 

Spirit of 76 21 

from The Ptolemaic Statues of the Serapeum of Memphis 22 

Tornado 24 

Non-Objective Painting of America 25 

THE BESTIARY 

Strophe 27 
Frontpiece 29 
Birds 30 
ABC 31 
Musicians 32 
Cats 33 
Centerpiece 34 
Dogma 35 
Lupine 36 
Dancers 37 
Sphinx 38 
Backpiece 39 
Antistrophe 40 

"The Free and the Lonely": a Fragment 42 
To Butler Waugh 43 
David and Saul 44 
2x4 45 

For Bill Sheridan 47 
Impressions in the Present-Perfect 49 
A Marriage of Death and Love 54 
A Correspondence of Americans 56 



CALLIGRAPH 

Her hair hysterical, thrown back at the sight 
Of the rose my throbbing boyhood brought, 
Incensed, how the man in me leaped from my blush 
And struck a trembling smile upon her mouth, 

And how, drawing a tattered kimono close, 
With fingers soft as pounded paraffin, 
She bent and lifted up a thin-necked vase 
To put die flower in. 



15 



HART CRANE: APRIL 27, 1932 

In retrospect at dawn, through the bottle of gin 

That was his window on the world, he saw the sun 

Not quite. The sun, not; something on the horizon, 

And then no thing but one, a someone, Chaplin 

Dancing there. And going nowhere dancing there 

And yet his shoes, too large, the old burlesque 

He knew would drop its jaws and show the cigar ets 

Butted and heaped to keep his arches warm, were 

Opening instead and radiating beams of red and white 

Across the sea between. Alternately, the foamed 

And bloodied thighs seemed waves rocking the boat home 

To a star-forgotten island under the knotted smiles, 

But too drunk for the fathoming of such flanks 

He drank. 

The bottle's upsidedown. But you are all support 
For arms that wilt unless embracing, mon capitaine. 
So we are on the deck together, three again 
Gazing at the distant swoons of the Florida port 
Of palms. They'll welcome you with knives sharper 
Than whalestooth behind their grace, you spewed 
Son of a hook and a scar. And you who knew 
First the electric touch of flesh strikes darker 
Than any plumb can gauge, they'll dismember 
With finely pointed pens. Except you. Listen, 
Before the sun that blinds at nine, at dawn Chaplin 
Was dancing on the dragon's tongue, I swear, 

O shoulders, 
Gone! So, limp, I cork and hurl and watch it float, 
My bibelot. 



16 



At twelve o'clock the sun came down to dote, a pom-pon 

On the sea that floated bluely like a sailor's cap, 

And the pure sky, unreconciled, stood without rank as 

At twelve o'clock the sun came down to dote, a pom-pon. 

The scuttled giant of a hulk settled at the bottom, 

In his blacked eyes were fishegged irises, a highway of 

Fins trafficked the broken bridge of the nose of 

The scuttled giant of a hulk settled at the bottom. 

And such a span was the nimbus of the bellbottoms 

The fanged generations, minnow and shark, 

Lay down together in the sanctuaried arc, 

And such a span was the nimbus of the bellbottoms, 

That at the bandy-joined wishbone of death and love 

He dove. 



17 



W. C. FIELDS 

By Jove, my glowworm dove my chickadee Death's 
Caught up with me at last with the last billing, 
And so many elegant days are still unsipped. 
'Tis a fraud, I say, 'tis a fraud; 'tis fraught 
With imminent danger, the coming of this fellow 
In the bright nightgown. 

Drat it, goodbye stuffed fowl of a life foreshortened, 
Goodbye rim of the glass of pure water forlorn, 
Goodbye blond pulchritude of f arflung travels, 
Sunflowers I shall not sniff, balls not juggle, 
Goodbye. In a moment rather I shall endeavor 
To climb the wagon whose steeds will wend 
Bumpily along the road's parched tongue 
To the provinces. 

But, Jehosaphat, my good man, has the chef 
By some mischance omitted the paprika? 



is 



IKON 

of Allen Ginsberg 

His howl grabbed me by my high intangibles; 
His humor, of the ghetto-American, riddled 
Me silly as Fosdick of the cops 
My gassy dialectic escaping to be filled 
By dancing inbetween despairs, and flops. 

A cloud in trousers baggied by the wind 

I came down the musical chute to find 

In a riff-raff flat, a pock on the cheek 

Off the stumblebum-bandaged nose of the Bowery, 

A kind of a poet and a humankind of skin: 

The frockcoat face with its curling sleeves 
Of raskolnikovian-rivington weave, 
Then the homed spectacle of his eyes, a cross 
Between the visionary and mission bum-boss, 
So shoulder-drooped they kissed across his body; 

And a kitchen as shamlpled as the czarina's 
My grandmother s slum, whose bulbas 
Bloomed in the potted beds, and every bed 
Grew a plot of hysterical revolution as 
The sons of the gunsel slept. 

We sat, we talked over crumbs while a roach 
Shuttled like a brown monk to and fro 
Across the thread unwinding tongues spelt out, 
Tottering this way. with whispers of my host 
And, with my host of praises, that: 

Shrug which kept our balance and composed 
An hour's ease between my eyes and those 
Of the invert in the apocalyptic rant 

19 



Who swaddled a century burning in his thighs 
And tousled the strings of its dying instruments. 

From his hands I saw that he 
Was in a perpetual state of litany; 
Between the thin blue lines of lips 
I could almost read with fingertips 
The wine-drenched letters of a race 
Driven across the tragic page 
Incomprehensibly with laughter. 

Here was no perfection of tongues 
But a babel apprenticing; 
Confounded and blasted young, what 
If whatever came up spat out of throat? 
Dimestore prophetics at best, and yet, 
With the everlasting eyes of Chariot 
And, of Gargantua, the laughter, 

I felt our words promising to become 
Huddled buddies under the bomb, 
Learning like Fields and Marc Chagall, 
Yeats and Finnegan and all that fell 
From the first into the human tense 
To scramble to their feet and dance 
Circles round the crater, 

Billowing across the dazzled sky 

Benignly tender zeppelins of a smile, 

Signature of all things yet to come 

When the light fades and we lay down 

Drumbeat and intellection's scars 

And wake to name the things around by heart. 



20 



SPIRIT OF '76 

Halleluiah, I'm a bum on Easter Sunday, 
I just woke up to tory fife & drum-tattoo 
& tapping my pocket to find the bottle's safe 
I found a tinfoiled box of Copenhagen snuff 
Inside the hole inside the hole in my jacket. 

Halleluiah, I'm a bum on Easter Sunday, 
Not a dingbat thing in the universe to do 
But listen for the tory fife & drum-tattoo 
Approaching, & gaze up at the girder above me 
Where Nathan Hale's my gibbeted bedfellow 

The savior's barred & boarded the saloons 

& the wreckers've torn down the coin-dropping El-tracks 

& left the indifferent blue. 

Halleluiah, I'm a bum on Easter Sunday, 
While closer comes the tory fife & drum-tattoo, 
& it doesn't make a bit of difference to me 
That Tliirty-fourth & Fifth's the tallest bottle 
In the world, with a golden bald eagle at the top 
Of its corking, sticking its beak out at me 
In broad daylight, because it's sticking its beak 
Out at you, bum, tattoo. 



21 



from THE PTOLEMAIC STATUES OF THE 
SERAPEUM OF MEMPHIS 

for Leon Golub 

Pindar's body is most of all whole, 
Throned among these poets and philosophers: 
Though his face is pounded flat by time 
His scepter Olympian muscles of a lyre 
Strumming a song aimed at the parallel dromes 
Aimed at the horizon's breast-splitting cord, 
Pindar's body is most of all whole, 

Otherwise rubble: 

Heraclites, 

A bony-thonged leg. 

HPOTAr stumped 

Like the very letters of his name. 

The waisted torso of Orpheus 

With chipped intimations of wings 

Dead about his feet, 

While a few scattered and decapitated 

Sphinx from the Avenue of the Sphinx 

And the holy Serapeum 

Have their bodies turned to them, 

Enigmatically. 

And above all 

Players in this play 
In this sun-eaten pit and basin 
In this amphitheater of sand 
Where I am here today 
Come down in flesh and bone, 
A mid-twentieth century 
Son of a melody sounding 

22 



And resounding void of theme, 
Come down to find the meaning 
After many bedouin driftings, 
The Father and the Truth 
To attach these senses to, 

Above all 

Players in this play 

Plato only holds the key 

To the stage behind the stage, 

Of whose statuary body 

Only hieroglyphs remain, 

A dwarfed and hooded mystery 

Where the head begins at waist: 

Nothing but a fist but the fist 

That burning to be 

The very listless essence of, 

Absent of all mortality, 

I turn 

To the sculpturing wind 

That the sculpturing wind 

Turn me to stone 

And then erode until addenda 

And appendages be gone, 

And being but a rubble in the midst 

Closer to what timeless being is, 

I shall be a knuckle of that fist 

Closed round the key 



That a few scattered and decapitated 

Sphinx from the Avenue of the Sphinx 

And the holy Serapeum 

Are turning turning their bodies to, 

Enigmatically. 



23 



TORNADO 

Amid shambles blown, blown pages of a Gideon, 

A farmer with a pitchfork stepped 

Before the microphone and said it was a huge 

Black arm did it, come sweeping across 

The tabletop plain, grizzly, on a binge. 

His wife, kind of scared and something shy 
Of things stuck right before your face 
To talk into, was in the distant field 
Pecking at the wreckage of a moviehouse 
Fallen out of the sky, for pans. 

And still agog, the kid in overalls 

Was dancing on shingles, leaping 

From tree to tree, his blond crop fluttering, 

Yelling to all the buried farmboys 

About the swindging tail of the dragon that snapped. 



24 



NON-OBJECTIVE PAINTING 
OF AMERICA 

Here nothing is fixed. Like nature 
Nothing ever stands still long enough 
For a pen to set down upon paper 
Or a brush to found upon canvas 
A structure directed and tough. 

Everything's everywhere moving 
North south east west 
And always away from the center 
Where there's never the natural danger 
Of freak accidents. 

No wonder then that the middle 
Is part of the west, and the north 
Runs into the eastern border 
And something like a sombrero 
Straddling the southern border 

Makes the south run into the souther 
And so forth. And you ask: Can a hero 
Emerge from this impbssible muddle? 
Where is the splendid antique structure, 
The centered figure, the blue beyond? 

And it answers: That's me, America, 
For you. Where the muddle is the hero, 
Continually practicing how to be whacky, 
Since everyone knows the blue and the blond 
Are as joky 

As Joyce and bats as Bugnolo, 
Who can find a slice of Virginia tobaccy 
On the back of an anonymous hearse 
Traveling north from East Mishawauka, 
And taking it to his studio 



25 



Forget it ever was, 

While scraping and rescraping a creation 
Out of movement out of seething inspiration 
Toughbrown and green and hot with combustion, 
An immensely infinitesimal universe. 



26 



eternally angry, eternally separated, in 
cataleptic frozen gesture of abandon . . 

DJUNA BARNES, TlighttVOod 



STROPHE 

We have forgotten what enchantment is. Each step 
Is a descent indecently descendant of a shame, 
Shedding what perversities we cannot name 
As one continually sheds a weddingdress 
Descending to a newer nakedness 
That only new perversity can claim. 

Remember, once, going up these stairs 
Once before going up and finding doors 
That were opening upon 
Whole albums of warm and human breath, 
And the tomboy titillations down the bannisters, 
Sliding down to the barking, carpeted floor 
And standing upright and parting your hair 
The better to see the firelight upstairs 
Arranging itself in a troop of golden falcons 
To wing you back up for more. 

Now jealous parakeets cawk me out of the rooms 

Where I have left a little of my night 

In rabid signature upon a body's white 

Neck and bosom, and in mascara tins, 

And I fix behind me my vestigial bones 

That all my sisters see me here, 

Each step taken lonelier 

Than the step to be taken were, 

27 



That all should cry, Beware, Beware 

Her flashing eyes, her floating hair 

Weave a circle round her thrice, 

And gathering in a queenly train 

Behind me, of amphibians, 

How in the name of Light should I 

Tear my body from their cries 

When we are altogether damned upright 

As we are all together stitched and bound 

To go down to the basest step of the night 

Gazing at the naked beastface of our wound 

A paw away and froze in a muzzle of ice. 



28 The Bestiary 



FRONTPIECE 

Here it all begins, Dear, 
On this spinning disk, 
With the needlepoint, Dear, 
Grooving out a grin 
Down the midmoist center 
Of the icon with 
One cheek manly boned, Dear, 
One check feminine, 
Cheek to cheek alone, Dear: 
The fundamental crackdown 
And debasement of the rhythm 
On this spinning disk 
Where it all begins. 



29 The Bestiary 



BIRDS 

I'm here as the penguin. 

It's all so new, 

This habit of tuxedo, 

And the birds one finds 

Herself confessing to: 

Long-legged Ibis, 

Bent with a beeriness 

Turning her against herself, 

Pecking at her groin; 

And Ulula, Cuculus, Garrula, 

Grus— all manner of aves 

Strayed from the vias 

Of Ave Maria: owls that owl, 

Vultures that vamp 

With night grown deeper 

Behind its cowl, 

With bawk of bats 

And tedium's flit, 

All come out with hoot 

And howl, with chitter of wing 

And tittering strut 

And God knows what 

Hell is this parliament of fowls. 

In the center Madame Pavo, 

Robin-jackdaw-peacock-squatter, 

With her hundred eyes 

Growing wider, growing fatter 

On their "Ecce, ecce, bravo, bravo," 

Shows between her two plump cheeks 

A dagger-sharp and shiny beak 

And bows down 

Making the rounds 

Of the parliament of fowls. 

30 The Bestiary 



ABC 

Albino-white and alabaster freezing 
She struts before her mate who 
Follows her blond-tail swing, 
A property man who keeps acute 
Eyes upon his holdings, 
Though she can put a blinder on 
To draw the shades of any man 
When she goes agelding. 

"Blueblooded bitch with high cheekbones 

Flank to flank she knots her stride 

With mine, of all the mongrels 

Hounding after hide, 

And I would rear with teeth unbit, 

If not for the yawn in my stomach's pit, 

Bite off her tail and bury it 

With the bastard child inside." 

Cock among chickens, cuckolded, 
He tries to strut, mistrustful, 
Through \ 

Coops where tittering "Anycocklldo's" 
Leave his bantam chest deflated 
Stub his royal claws from clinging 
And that beak, degenerated 
To a scared crow's lechering. 



31 The Bestiary 



MUSICIANS 

Trombone, sax and bongo-drum 
Bless the bed that we sprawl on 
Darkly spectacled. 

Blow and thump an antiphon 
Filling up our vacant gut 
Shot with hope and fear. 
With the organistrum dated, 
And the bombardon, negotiate 
Some other frantic spires : 
Improvising Bach, or better, 
Cantatas by Saint Buxtehude. 
Watch us choir. 

Like white altarboys we pipe 
Fugues as whistle-clean as fifes, 
Ascending and sustained 
Way up on high, here architect— 
Tiptoploftically; then crack 
And break our throat and drain 
Down through dams and panting lie 
On the white sheet rhythmically, 
A spreading stain. 

Trombone, sax and bongo-drum 
Bless the bed that we sprawl on 
Darkly spectacled. 



32 The Bestiary 



CATS 

In the tiled confessional 
Retching, bent and white as sin, 
I spill with guts and jiggergin 
Dead wrens that I am knotted with 
Into the still pool 

And the nursery bird is crying 
The sky is falling. 

Some cat's clawing at the door, 
Some cat's crying to get in 
While I'm kneeling on all fours 
At the putrid chalice rim 
For absolution 

And the nursery bird is crying 
The sky is falling. 

Now the claws are round the knob 
And around the bowl my own 
Cling to the wine of my overflow 
As the door miaows like a snarl 
In an empty groin 

^.nd the nursery bird is crying 
The sky is falling. 

Tiy the window, quick. Or razor, 
Sharp. Jump! Cut! Jump! Cut! 
But between the actor and the act 
Lies the failure: You can't 
Cut out of your heart 

The nursery bird that's crying 
The sky is falling. 

Let cool music therefore drown us, 
Fill the jiggers up around us, 
Watch us making it and while 
We are slop and sliver, pull 
Someone, please, the flush! 

33 The Bestiary 



CENTERPIECE 

Exactly at the midnight moment, exactly in the crack between 

The dark hours behind us and the dark hours before us 

Half of the hunter's body and half of the hunted's 

Seeking me came to me begging they meet in me, 

Turning and turning; sic, sic shall they 

Be received by me; sic shall they 

Be found; sic shall they be 

Opened 



34 The Bestiary 



DOGMA 

Be fruitful and multiply your fruits, saith the Dogma, 

And I will judge you not. Turn out the light and let me 

Feel the texture of the double-crotched kiss in the dark, 

The stubbled and beard-bumbled smack of seamed lips, 

And I will judge you not. Straighten and twang me as I 

Hear the twanging sadistic tongue, a Maestro of the Art, 

Coming down like a frenzied baton on the white behind 

Where a hymn with notations the droppings of blackcandles 

Muffed in the night is printed, and spreading, and hot, 

And I will judge you not. My voyage among you is as seer 

Of Darkness, dense and lapless as the sea that drifts 

From cell to cell dilating and contracting like a uterus, 

A sponge. I am what I feel and what I feel I forespill: 

Be fruitful then and multiply your fruits, saith the Dogma, 

For the time is come round to the toll of a second coming 

When one man betweenwomen spliced on a bed, clinging together 

Gregorian chimes, shall announce the gospelled resurrection 

Of the tooth of the mastiff that chewed through Dante's rhyme. 

I felt its bite long since, saith the Dogma. Rising, I feel 

You rising in its clench. And I will judge you not. 



35 The Bestiary 



LUPINE 

Stretched across the floor, sole to sole 

Touching except for the bottle inbetween, 

We prowl each other with words like steppenwolves, 

While in the chairs stationed at either side 

Our loves and desolations sit stupefied 

And powerless as angels must have been. 

I speak one tongue, you another, yet Decay 
Erects no barriers for the consecrated 
Few who prowl each other with words like steppenwolves: 
Nothing abrupts its drunken lyric power 
. Spreading like stain to all four corners 
Of the body, immediately translated. 

And what we give to those who sit above 

With the bitten fingernails that are theirs 

While we prowl each other with words like steppenwolves, 

Is mercy like the coins to keep them blinder, 

As I raise my hand to hold her chin up higher 

As you raise your skirt to catch his tears. 



36 The Bestiary 



DANCERS 

The three of them 

Scrawling across the white wall 

A signature ominously looming and beautifully 

Joined by the arcs their 

Arms make, over and under 

Like ribbons run round a 

Maypole-tree 

With creeping undulations of the serpentine forms 
With clean unwavering sweeps of rounded spiral 
In continual slow ravel and unraveling 

Joined by a laughter dark 

And as cold as the legs 

From which, shuddering, 

Fingers flee 

The three of them 

Scrawling across the white wall 

A signature beautifully looming and ominously. 



37 The Bestiary 



SPHINX 

In hoary youth I sit, beyond depilatory, blond 
Turning to beermare tawn, yawning the leonine 
Growl: One beast, twice cat and triply masculine, 
My paws, though pinned at wrist, still prowl 
Like crusted infants' lips the nipples' rounds 
Groping in foetal-lidded dark for the blood 
Their skins were titled to before the knife's 
Long prod-insheathed scraped out their lives 
And I ( auburnly flowing with a Byzantine 
Book of verses, mind-meanders, though supine ) 
Plugged up with rag of thumb and dumb peroxide 
Dab the roots of modesty for good. 

I pause to lick. To run my parched tongue over 
Their sun-bitten minnow bodies, although an act 
Forking into scenes of mother and the murder 
I commit with the noisy silence of an actor 
Practiced in his part, nothing attracts 
Me more. High drinks, songs, the fine 
Bitches dancing on all fours around me, 
Or two in one two-step dip writhing serpentine 
Are so much bagpipe puff. Bored, I pause to lick, 
Like an old king and father who only knows by itch 
That he has children, at the very tips of his fingertips, 
And drops his hands on cool throned dominion, stonily. 



38 The Bestiary 



BACKPIECE 

Cheeks to cheeks thus wedded 
Like Cancer and Capricorn 
Or a rosary bead torn open 
Or the great triptych closing 
On the third day of Creation 
Of mad old Hieronymous Bosch, 
To the fundamental crackdown 
And debasement of the rhythm 
When the sun comes up the color 
Of beer hungover us all 
Joining anonymous torsoes in 
Decadences bottomless, 
Millennial and anonymous fall. 



39 The Bestiary 



ANTISTROPHE 

Dry heaved, dawn cracking at the littoral zone, 
Scum-hemmed and blenny-stitched, with the fin 
And gillprint paths upon the sand directing us, 
We slither a forked tongue body out of throat, 
We worm by inches, brought low, the going-up, 
The slow evolved anabasis home. 

Here at the foot where so many have failed 

And fallen back into the pond drowned in senses 

Leaving behind the bones that are curled 

Ornamentals, thongs for the sandal, 

We lug up our belly, we rise to all fours 

Aware that each movement, crawl after crawl, 

Covers a shadow crawled over before 

Covers a movement played over and over 

In the fall. 

Heavy the ascent, heavy with thunderfoot 

Plod and dynasties dragging vestigially after, 

Ponderous and unsure. Up ahead a shiver of light, 

Something forgotten, something familiar like laughter 

Wakes up the spine. It is here we must part, 

My prophet; here I stand erect, and from recall 

Of a glory that once inhabited this mansion 

Bombarded, divided, broken down into atoms, 

Hysterically scattered down the well 

Of the lapping night, a home 

Blasted out of itself, 

I turn, 

That is to say, return 

Converted to the reconverted place where 

I began, my eyes behind like Teiresias 

Gazing on Sodom & Gomorrah's endless kiss. 

The beast I was, I will not be still here, 

The beast who aped the most perverted star 

40 The Bestiary 



In dying discovers, in the holier-than-here, 
Himself more than man, more an 
Angel at the top of the stairs. 



41 The Bestiary 



"the free and the lonely" 
a fragment 

in partial fulfillment 
to Leonard Ehrlich 

I write letters I string to my fingers and let fly, 
In the furious ink of days I write your answers 
Stuffing them into the enveloped silence, screeching 
Dead or insane but ( God! ) not blind. 

My walkingstick tapping an overtured map out of code, 
From blondy centripetal Kansas hunting your brow 
As you hunted with sound, hunted John Brown 
Down deep in remembering blood, 

I enter the cubicle tamped and compacted with poems 
Of days when skeins of manuscript never stopped, 
Our knees close-knit amid fiercely whispered fumes 
Pillaring our music like a crooned acropolis. 

Now these fingers stumble against your symphony undone 
When the mind, with an oboe wildness, broke 
And Franz Schubert's ghost settled into your room 
As I am settled, an emaciate frayed cloak 

That sits before you, all works aside, in a fraternity 
Of music and meaning eternally failing as the desires 
Our waning western light conceived to ensnare us, 
Yet down on our knees, 

Old Maestro, who finds in the mind perpetually wandering 
Like a Jew, the Zero that all the keys are thronging 
To, the Door jambed open and the gaze upon 
The Shrug of a couple of comedians 

Singing and dancing pantomime and tell-old tales, 
Laughing at butterflies' lidding adagio, 
Content in this cramped cell, hushed as Shiloh, 
Reading the one the other's lips uplifted like braille. 

42 



TO BUTLER WAUGH 

What would you have me do, 

Knock upon your skull to prove 

That it is wood, and kill 

The child in it? I could 

Not damage skin so beautiful. 

How would you have me lie, 
Agree time passes, your eyes 
Indifferent? Or that it sits 
Indifferently, beyond? I 
Do not for a minute 

Believe it. For the truth 

I hear shaped in your mouth, 

Shaped from night-broodings God 

Knows how deep, is a youth 

I hang my spirit on. 

Then how would you have me nod: 
Yes, the blond days are dead, 
Dead the fraterrial dynamo? 
Yes, if you stuff mere words 
In my head. Otherwise, no. 



43 



DAVID AND SAUL 

David in the chamber 
Lets his fingers fall 
Over his harped torso 
To the genital. 
Saul, the aged lion, 
Growls in his loins. 

Melodies plucked pure 
Tiger-red and black 
Do not reach the ears 
Of the raving king. 
Sinewy Jonathan 
Consumes the song between. 

David and the prince 
Tall and taut as strings 
Play upon each other's 
Body young imaginings. 
Saul, the aged lion, 
Growls in his loins. 



44 



2X4 

toward dawn 

No longer the singular we two wedded in bedlock, 
The simple conjugation of our love has given way 
Anatomically to forms that have eroticized the shock 
That in sharing our decadence decadence decays. 

The path we once knew, immediate to our senses 
As a rose within a thin-necked vase, 
Deviously sinistral we've wandered and demented 
In the ultimate light, ultimately base. 

by day 

The night persists. The fictions held between us 
Curl and grow frayed in their neglected bindings 
As our fingers play past them on another corpus : 
A young American suicide, the intricate windings 

Of a derelict through boyflowering Alexandrine 
Streets, ryder and nightwood and the ghostly loves 
Of a woman not yet risen from her sleep, Justine: 
The palpable pithed strings the mind is soundless of. 



45 



tonight 

I lay beside you and you were whore 

To my touch, and boy I craved but never could approach; 
In the shadow of your neck I became the pale boy before 
Me, and the girl, at your breast, open as a broach; 

I lay with another woman and yet 

With whom within and against what cheek I cannot say, 
I cannot say anything, as we kiss, that's past, except 
The thrilled breast at my tongue I will not betray. 

and now 

In this 2x4, tender on down to the soft breathings 
And the cigaret passed as a metronome commenting on, 
Should you turn to me to touch and find that something's 
Come between us; should your fingers tick with agitation, 

Tense, and cross with mine your wrist, and where 
The furious strum is, I will, even as my lips erode, 
Lobe with a kiss more global than the world your ear, 
And whisper, when you whisper what we're coming to, God! 



46 



FOR BILL SHERIDAN 

Tonight I know what being the dead is, Bill, 
Though no snow is falling softly softly falling 
On my heart, no, nothing that has never not 
Fallen already and already melted tonight. 
Here in this silence intruded upon only 
By her breathings from within I think of you 
And how an hour ago I saw your pale face light up 
The iris of her eyes with an old romance pale 
As your face, hopelessly pale but enlightened 
Before her eyelids fell. 
And yet we could have dashed the wineglass 
To the floor that night, as in a blood-let game 
Boys play; I could have given something to your 
Loss, but her wing was in my mouth. 
I should have seen ahead before instead of now, 
Or seen before ahead to know that all the pale 
Boys before me were prefaces to me, the failed 
Boys before me, me then now. 

Now we have fallen a fall tomorrow will 
Desperately try to raise but this time finally 
Fail: the way the fictions held between us, 
The way the child of pretension we tried to raise 
Between us finally has failed this fall. 

This fall! God, Bill, where are you wandering now? 

The last time we saw you it was down the hall 

Of some narcotic trance or transcendental dream 

Of flesh, corruption-bound like the dented 

Fruits of the season; the last time, I spoke of you 

In whispers, as if to reconstruct the texture 

Of a skin I sensed would shrivel up 

With guilt in love through hopeless dissipation 

To morbid wordlessness; the last time, tonight, I saw 

The iris of her eyes light up with an old romance, 

47 



Pale as I do not know what Dying-For destined face: 
I only know what being the dead is, Bill, 
Without the snow falling softly softly falling, 
Without the gasjets burning, without the scrawled 
Confession; I only know what being the dead is, Bill, 
Here in this furyless room where my cold hand no 
Longer hopes even for your cold hand gently 
To guide me back for dying. 



t« 



IMPRESSIONS IN THE 
PRESENT-PERFECT 



I have the two buns again 
For your sleeping cheeks, 
Bought in the dawn's bakery. 

The glasses of orange juice 
Stand slenderly; the coffee 
Perks in the dome. 

The boy, as though he knew 

We wanted to be alone, 

This morning especially sleeps. 

Outside the snow has fallen. 
I can hear the cries 
Of the skiers. 

Darling, are you dreaming still, 
Or am I? \ 



49 



11 

The cabin is buckled tight 
And bundled up to the chin 
With sweaters knit with reindeer. 

In the central fireplace burn 
Chunks of maplewood dark 
As the cocoa. 

A guitar. Others clatter in 
Scattering crystal on the floor. 
Gazing out at the white knob 

Of the hill and the fine lines 

We have drawn, we whisper together 

While the rims of the cups dangling 

From our fingers touch and vibrate 
And are still. 



50 



Ill 

In the little shop cocked 
To one side of the street 
I buy the tarn o'shanter. 

Unraveling the scarf you 
Shake the snowflakes blondly 
Out of your hair. 

The proprietor, anxious for home, 
Muffles the bells with his palm. 
In the avenue's twilight slush 

We stroll high and as flushed 
As cheekbones. Hungry but miles 
From the inn, we press together 

In doorways and, of one leather, 
Appease our appetites. 



5i 



IV 

Even the empty bandstand chairs 
Arranged like a musical overture 
Invite us to waltzing. 

When you throw back your head 
As we whirl, past lovers, 
Resonant in the wood, 

Stop, stare, and the silence 
Applauds long after its music 
Is through. At the table flickered 

With lobster-shell and breadcrust 
We map a chessgame of our future, 
Then tilt them into the cinders 

The waiter touches to light 
Two flaming blue drambouies. 



52 



So tipsy is the path we blaze 
Through the midnight drifts 
The total zodiac grows dazzled. 

Our chase outpaces Orion. 
From the new dippers we drink 
Crystal to quench the heat. 

In the waning darkness 

I strike you like a planet 

And laughing, your pleated skirt 

Admits one pleat more. 

We see in the ice-blue morning 

Hunters with guns approaching 

The ground we have left behind, 
Placid as flak moving south. 



53 



A MARRIAGE OF DEATH 
AND LOVE 

When Cohen went out and committed suicide 
By stepping in front of a hit and run fender, 
It was desolate Sunday on the boulevard: 
Only the animals in the zoo nearby 
Screamed at the body and iron thud 
Screams that my body, awaking for love 
In another part of the neighborhood, thought 
Were the usual copulations in the clover. 

And I who had not known his human breath 
Known that its ghost still walks the stairs 
Of the haunted body of his daughter Beth, 
By whose arm interlocking down the aisle 
Like band of wedding cinched to weddingband, 
I can feel his will & testament to the bone, 
And to her eyes, so bridled and impaired 
On this high holy birthday of his death, 

Can make this marriage vow and plight 
A truth by God I promise to adore: 
That as our bed is stretched between two walls, 
That as our world is spun between two poles, 
And we are each and both of us divided integers 
Whose total sum is naught but the night 
Before us and the night we bellow for, 
Going to and fro and up and down in fright, 

So the dark daughter on the shore 
Tonight is joined to an heir by law, 
The son the father never bore 
Though his desperation wanted, 
The poet son whose own night bears 
A lightness for the pain of fathers, 

54 



And for their self-slaughters 
Will dedicate his pen to lead 
The dark daughter on the shore 
Gently, ever- gently to the waters. 



55 



A CORRESPONDENCE OF AMERICANS 



I miss those free-wheeling interborough rides 

Of minds lit up through the tunnels 

Where we were palely cast, and the less widest, wide 

Spin and descending sift of puns down the funnel 

To shuteye purgation: of the Deuce of Heads 
Put together and become the one and only King Jam 
Boxed in the dark age of a die and rattling ahead 
Of our time Jimjack, jimjammed, jammed 

In with the comicstripped faces and the frumps 
Plush from soft broadways, closing, where Kid 
Mulligan just happening by offered his stump 
Tapping pennytunes, ponderous upon our lids. 

I left it, boy, and you, end I say endlessly riding 
The rails riding nowhere, shuttled for a freight 
Somewhere, America, bound, with a weddingbond guiding. 
So cleanly damned my weeks are like the old iambic feet 

Out here, limping toward their sabbatical ends I say 
Endlessly limping. And healthfully, unsicklied unto death, 
With a biblebelt to keep my trousers up and lots of space 
To hold my follies in, and a twanged American Gothic breath 

That frequents the local tornado haunts, vainly urging 
From darkness a vision of trembling hands emerging. 



S« 



II 

From afar, this day you brandish a bride, Dear Jim, 
I gift you a handful of wishes ( stop ) that godhead, 
The unutterable vows we made to die in need of him 
Forget: his limbs are broken (steps) quite dead 

( Where you are tomorrow already is, as shadows go 
Easy up over the gotham we trod, westwardly ho, 
And the sky is cathedraldomed like a stained blue 
Eyelid closed upon a benediction of you. 

Farrer now, the niggers minstrelling waters behind, 
I am dawning too and stretching reflection from toe 
Bent as coastlines bend embracing trades and tides, 
To the badlands of my face forefathered into stone. 

And her galloping, spur-hysterical mane of night 
Fallen loosely like blond towns among the grain 
Resolve all differences, and the votiveness of eyes 
Uplifted on the bicepped hill ) , dear Jim, a gain 

i 
Of boys it was, no more, a fungo's soft preliminary 

To play. ( Steeped ) now, no less than ever I be for her 

Sugar in hand, rod, snake underhoof, dad, coming to her 

As the lore of the land, widespread as sodomy. 



97 



Ill 

Level, yet, your sculptural profile was with mine 
Mounted high across the rivers of coffee spilt: 
What volume we raised, divinity, was our divide, 
Though close as one can come, we came, to guilt. 

Like the flies that ate philosophies off our lips 
Cactuses on the moonsplayed desert fret the mind, 
And the rhythms of the streets we knew outside 
Were splintered, tropical pick-up spicks. 

And the nights, above all, the spaces complementary 
In our eyes. Now nothing is before me, and behind 
The tense of fossilized hoofprints and the weary 
Pilgrims' stop, as if they had been beaten into wind, 

And I move as the metric in a poem whose theme is ruin, 
But more than theme or metric the poem is a ruin, 
Fractured by handling cracked by time and weather, 
Whose darkness is doomed henceforth to the scholar 

Who'll appear with incisions of pen where, knelt, 
At the edge of new waters, giantstep-trodden, I, 
And peck at and pick out the message that spelt 
The invisible twin opposite these arms would edify. 



58 



IV 

At the extreme end something beginning is sown, 
The last cablecar not chattering to its stop 
But stopping to start up and clattering down 
Hills like an old tune become apocalyptically bop. 

So it was, the moment after the sudden earthquake 
Astonished their downfalls into shatterglass toasts: 
Hands fumbling into pockets fumbling with the shakes 
For butt-ends to rebuild the Barbary Coast. 

It all reminds me of. The same face, Love, ever 
Changing and anew. The man who planted bombs 
Last Christmas in your eyes, I've seen the blossoms 
Up through schisms breaking; and I know howsoever 

The whirr of planes approaches me, dearer by far 
They are actually approaching you. Overshadowing 
Unto. Like a lip I'd lay upon yours, silencing, 
While wide baywaters lap trinities, heart to heart. 

But I am. Fog horn, calls from low dives. Gulls cry 
Above my cry. Overshadowing you too. Fag on fag 
Lit up at the extreme end of. Something, a cry 
I am, beginning to be fogged. Far gone and gone on jag. 



59 



Our images, Jim, have come to the ice 
Left in once drunkenly lifted cups. 
In the slow dissolutions, crystal clear, 
Faces are staring, of infinite failure, up. 

You at the other end of the inevitable bar 
Extending crosscountry, the picketed harbor 
Of your eyes; and, picketed, I at the other, 
And inbetween all our mad specters: 

The tenors intertwined, the widening forever 
Frontier song like the future tense of dreams 
Unlimited. O it's dissonance now, but listen, 
111 stand you one and then you'll one for me 

And one by one we'll topple down the ghosts 
To the gay center, where I'll say to you: 
'Lean against me with your irreligious brogue 
And I will lean the shoulder of a Jew, 

Sagging as a smile, and stagger with you 
Past the stoned fictions of ourselves as gods, 
Out of these swinging doors, this omaha nowhere, 
Bound, for all space, nowhere, clods.' 



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